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Oil spill from sunken liner threatens Antarctica

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Oil leaking from the MS Explorer cruise ship, which sank in Antarctic waters, could cause an environmental disaster near the Antarctic shore, a top-level foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

The MS Explorer, a Canadian cruise ship, built in Finland in 1969, sank on Saturday after hitting an iceberg off the Antarctic coast. A total of 154 passengers and crew members spent several hours in lifeboats in sub-zero temperatures before being rescued by a Norwegian ship.

"The touchiest issue here is the environment," the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency earlier quoted Mariano Memoli, the head of the National Antarctic Directorate at the Argentine Foreign Ministry as saying.

"Although the fuel storage compartments are intact, the fuel will have to be removed and the bunkers can never be completely cleaned out," the official said, adding that due to pressure, the ship's fuel tanks could crack releasing oil into the sea.

"On Wednesday I will make a trip to the disaster scene to study the situation and possible ecologic problems," Memoli said.

The ship, operated by the Canadian firm GAP Adventures, was carrying 185 metric tons of fuel, and an oil slick 180 by 20 meters (590 by 66 feet) in size has been seen at the scene of the accident. As the ship operated mainly on highly-toxic light fuel, most of which should evaporate, a possible solution could be to surround the slick with floating booms.

Argentina's Southern Scientific Research Centre (CADIC) said that while the Antarctic continent was a frozen desert, its coasts harbored a wealth of fauna and a unique flora of mosses and lichens. The sea waters are frequented by killer whales, seals, penguins and cormorants.

This accident is the second this year in the Antarctic. In late January, the Norwegian ship Nordkapp, carrying some 300 tourists and 76 crew members, went aground off Deception Island. As a result, at least 700 liters of diesel fuel leaked into the ocean. - RIA Novosti

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